FiveArmiescoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2014, 144 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and frightening images
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Bonus features: B+

The subtitle says it all. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is pretty much non-stop battle action, from an impressive opening sequence when the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) torches a city, until the converging armies battle and the final arrow is shot. So yes, this 144-minute film is rated PG-13 because of “extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images.” There’s no sex, no bad language, and no adult situations to speak of, except for warfare.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell once remarked, “War does not determine who is right—only who is left.” That wordplay aptly describes the third film in the Hobbit trilogy. With so much fighting and no build-up to speak of, the main suspense comes from seeing who will be the last ones standing and whether any major characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth will die.

Of course, if you can keep all the characters straight and remember who appears in The Lord of the Rings, you’ll have more emotional investment in what happens and have more of a clue, since the book that inspired the film series was written as a prequel. Given the three Lord of the Rings and three Hobbit films that Jackson has made, it’s strange to think that Tolkien’s books are considered classics of children’s literature. But when you read of battles, the violence is whatever a young reader can imagine. That’s not the case with film, hence the PG-13 rating.

FiveArmiesscreen1For his last foray into Middle-earth, Jackson broke up a single book into three film installments, so the third film functions as a third act—meaning, unlike some trilogies or sequels, The Battle of the Five Armies will seem impossibly confusing to anyone who hasn’t seen (or remembered) the first two installments. It will seem like what it is: all climax and no plot development or complications. Yes, five armies are converging, but if you’re approaching this cold or have forgotten the first two films, what’s missing is why we should care. The only takeaway in this case is that old motivating force, greed—greed for power, greed for gold—and a genocidal undercurrent. 

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) convinces the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to journey with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their ancestral Arkenstone from the Lonely Mountain, which is guarded by the talking, flying, fire-breathing dragon Smaug.

In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), the questers reach the mountain, but their mortal enemies, the Orcs, and their crazed leader Azog are in pursuit, seeking to defeat all other races and rule the Middle-earth. Meanwhile, Gandalf the Grey travels to the ruins of Dol Guldur, the wizard Sauron’s stronghold, to investigate another emerging evil.

FiveArmiesscreen2The Battle of the Five Armies ends where the second installment left off, with Smaug attacking Laketown and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) still imprisoned because his fellow men blamed him for awakening Smaug. Meanwhile, Thorin and the Dwarves prepare to defend the mountain they occupy, while Azog and one army approaches, and another Orc army with Goblins and giant bats led by Bolg also approaches. So does the Dwarf army, and the Elf army.

What redeems The Battle of the Five Armies for the merely confused is the incredible art design and special effects that Jackson has employed to bring Middle-earth and all its denizens to life. The action is superbly realistic, and the set decoration sometimes makes you believe that Middle-earth exists. A terrific transfer to Blu-ray disc brings everything to life in amazing fashion, and with a fully immersive DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack.

I watched with my 17-year-old son, and the two of us kept remarking on how spectacular everything looked and sounded. He liked it better than the first installment but not as much as the second; I liked it as part of a series that, overall, I’d rate an A-. But it’s as hard (and unfair) to rate this single film as it would be to rate a film that consisted only of the big fight scene in Rocky, without the benefit of seeing any of his training or backstory. Count me among those who think that the first and third films in the trilogy would have become stronger had Jackson split the material into two films, as he originally thought to do. That said, fans of fantasy and action films may like The Battle of the Five Armies as is, since there’s probably no less character or plot development here than there is in a genre blockbuster like The Expendables.

Language: N/A
Sex: N/A
Violence: Nonstop, with one beheading but at least no blood spurting
Adult situations: Warfare only
Takeaway: Greed and intolerance are the banes of existence